Episodes
Profile photo of Kat Holmes looking at the camera. She's wearing a black t-shirt and stud earrings.
13 Letters, Apr 15, 2021, Perfect Mismatch

Perfect Mismatch

The author of the beautiful accessibility book Mismatch, Kat Holmes, comes on to share her own personal journey and how inclusive design can take some of its greatest learnings through examining acts of exclusion.

Episode Transcript

Will Butler:

Hello, everyone, and thanks for listening to 13 Letters. Before we get to today's episode, we have a couple quick announcements. The first thing is to give a huge thank you to our long time transcript sponsor, Diamond. What a cool company Diamond is. If you look at their website, it says Diamond is an inclusive digital agency specializing in scalable, accessible and high-performance web and mobile applications, but they're really so much more than that. They are the ones who make sure that transcripts are printed. Well, not printed, but you know what I mean, for every single episode of 13 Letters, so thank you, Diamond, for your sponsorship.

Will Butler:

The other cool thing I wanted to share today is all of the new companies that are coming on to the Be My Eyes app to provide specialized video support to our blind community. This week, we're super excited to share that Verizon is now on Be My Eyes, so if you're a Be My Eyes user, you can now call up Verizon to get support with accessibility features as well as jobs for Humanity who just launched their new job board at blind.jobs. They're also answering calls on Be My Eyes to help you find the job that's right for you. They have companies all over the world committed to listing jobs that blind people can apply for.

Will Butler:

Even better than that, they've committed to interviewing the top blind candidates for each. Check them out as well. If you're in the United Kingdom, our at-home COVID testing support line is off the ground with the department of health and social care in the UK. That means anyone in the UK can now use Be My Eyes for video support with home COVID testing. More to come on that front, but I just wanted to make sure everyone got the news about these wonderful announcements and more. Now, on to our episode for the week.

Will Butler:

Cordelia.

Cordelia McGee-Tubb:

Will.

Will Butler:

We got one of your colleagues on the podcast today.

Cordelia McGee-Tubb:

I know. I always say I'm excited about these interviews. I'm really stoked. Let me start this over again. I need to not actually say that. Let's start it again. Will, I can't think of any word other than excited. Why is it my vacation this week?

Will Butler:

It's okay. Be you. Cordelia, be yourself. [inaudible 00:02:25], be yourself. The podcast isn't even sponsored by Salesforce, wink, wink.

Cordelia McGee-Tubb:

It isn't, but this week, we've got two Salesforce people on it because you've got me, and we've got our illustrious guest, Kat Holmes.

Will Butler:

Kat Holmes. It's because, well, I just can't help but be stupendous.

Cordelia McGee-Tubb:

stupendous Salesforce, but yeah, Kat is truly stupendous. I've had the pleasure of working with her for about the past year, because she joined Salesforce as a VP of user experience, I think, in March of 2020. Anyway, she's fantastic. She has an incredible history of inclusive design expertise. She wrote a phenomenal book called Mismatch: How Inclusion Shapes Design, which is one of my favorite books on my bookshelf. I feel really honored to work with her every day. I'm sorry, Will, that you don't have that luxury.

Will Butler:

I'm sorry too. You don't just hop into VP at Salesforce without having a pretty sweet track record, right?

Cordelia McGee-Tubb:

Oh my gosh, she's got all this experience at Microsoft, at Google, at all sorts of other places. She's just phenomenal.

Will Butler:

She tells a great story in this episode about when she explained accessibility to the CEO of Microsoft, and a light bulb went off. Of course, who knows where this was at in the journey, but I mean, Kat had a real effect among a few others at Microsoft, had a real effect on changing the course of that company with regard to accessibility.

Cordelia McGee-Tubb:

Something that I really love about this interview is we talk a lot about what it means to be a leader, what it means to give space to people, so they can create beautiful and inclusive things. I feel like I learned a lot from her.

Will Butler:

Great book too. I really enjoyed the book.

Cordelia McGee-Tubb:

Absolutely.

Will Butler:

Y'all are in for a really lovely interview today.

Cordelia McGee-Tubb:

Here is Kat Holmes.

Will Butler:

We've been excited to talk to you for a few months now, especially because, well, you two work together, don't you?

Kat Holmes:

Yeah. Thanks for having me. I spend a lot of time with Cordelia, and feel pretty lucky about that.

Cordelia McGee-Tubb:

Well, I feel extraordinarily lucky. I'll tell you, Will, when Kat was about to join Salesforce, I was meeting with some other design leader who was like, "I can't tell you who's coming to the company. I'm not allowed to say yet, but have you read this book Mismatch?" I was like, "Oh my gosh, Kat Holmes." It's been-

Will Butler:

That's such an unsneaky way to do that. That's...

Kat Holmes:

It still baffles me that folks other than my mom have read my books. It's super flattering and always humbling to hear, but I have worked with a lot of accessibility teams. I have to say that Cordelia and the crew at Salesforce are some of the best I've worked with. It's nothing to diminish the other folks I've worked with, but I think we really have something special happening in our team.

Will Butler:

I just want to know what it's like to work with Cordelia. I wanted to interview you about... get the candid scoop on... How accessible is Cordelia?

Cordelia McGee-Tubb:

We're not here to talk about me, Will. We're here to talk about Kat.

Will Butler:

Oh, sorry. Sorry. Sorry.

Kat Holmes:

Next podcast, I'll bring all the goods.

Will Butler:

I just missed you, Cordelia. We haven't seen each other in so long.

Cordelia McGee-Tubb:

In a year.

Will Butler:

I know. Well, Kat, thanks so much for being here. We're super excited to talk to you. We'll talk about your book too and all the stuff. I gotta say, though, I was reading your book over the weekend, and you pose this question in there that has so many wonderful possible answers that I just was like... Should we kick it off with this question? What was the exact way you worded it? How is a public restroom like a smartphone? I was like, "Oh my gosh, there are so many possible answers to that question."

Kat Holmes:

Bacteria level, yes. The real fun of writing a book is you never quite know what's going to come out, and I didn't plan on making it-

Will Butler:

Is that the answer to the... Sorry.

Kat Holmes:

Yes, the answer to the question. I think the metaphors and analogies and examples to help people connect with that very first moment of recognizing, "Oh, this environment I'm using is working for me, because it was designed with me in mind." It's something that when we work in digital products, it can be more challenging, I think, sometimes for folks to see that relationship between them and the product, but something like a bathroom or getting out of a vehicle. There's places where people bump into these mismatches everywhere in their lives, but drawing the correlation between that and then these really complex digital experiences that we make is something that I try to focus on, because it can feel very abstract without something like, "Okay, can you get onto this toilet? Yes or no?"

Kat Holmes:

Well, same thing happens with all kinds of experiences that we design.

Will Butler:

I often feel that way when I'm using my certain apps. Can I get onto this...

Kat Holmes:

Yes.

Will Butler:

Anyway, sorry to go immediately to the bathroom humor, but...

Kat Holmes:

No, it's great. It's great. It's an example that no matter where I go, and I'm amazed... I've really been lucky to speak and visit and meet with a really wide range of people from healthcare to financial, big banks to high tech to middle school students. Everywhere I go, if I put up a picture of a toilet, we can have a conversation. We can all have a similar conversation, and I use an example of one that has a digital sensor on the back as a flushing mechanism. It's just such a great example that everybody can get into to say, "Wait a minute, we thought we're doing maybe something innovative by putting a sensor or a touchscreen or something into an environment."

Kat Holmes:

But the moment we do that, it creates new kinds of mismatches, and requires different abilities to interact with. What is true for a public restroom or bathroom with a digital sensor is true for a touchscreen inside of a grocery store, or to buy a ticket to the subway. The moment we put that "innovation" into an environment, it dramatically changes who and who cannot use that interaction.

Will Butler:

There should be a class action settlement to get all the hours of our lives back for us, blind people, who have spent all these hours trying to flush those toilets.

Kat Holmes:

There's a good idea. There's a good idea.

Will Butler:

It's really... Even so many places have done so much for accessibility, I think, we really wanted to know about Kat, and where you got started. Where were you born, and where did you grow up?

Kat Holmes:

Oh, gosh, I was born and raised in Oakland, California, and was there all the way through my undergraduate degree. I'm a Bay Area native at heart, East Bay. My parents chose to raise us there because we're a multiracial family. It's a place where there are a lot of different backgrounds, identities, but also, really active place for conversations around diversity, and growing up in Oakland and spent a lot of time in Berkeley as well as a child, those are the birthplaces of a lot of different types of social justice and political action movements, including a huge portion of the independent living movement. But what's fascinating is I grew up...

Kat Holmes:

It wasn't until I was at Berkeley for college that I learned about Ed Roberts and the work that he and so many students at UC Berkeley did and in Berkeley, the city, to really fight for and also bring the next level of awareness on what accessibility and environments meant and look like. Walking through the campus every day not fully aware of that history just baffles me. It always stuck with me that for all the kind of conversations we have about the Free Speech Movement and Civil Rights Movement. I didn't learn about independent living movement.

Kat Holmes:

I didn't learn about disability rights and disability justice leaders, disability inclusion leaders, and I didn't certainly learn about accessibility in my education as an engineer. I studied material science engineering in college, and mechanical engineering, and thought I was going to design prosthetics.

Cordelia McGee-Tubb:

Like prosthetic limbs or... How did you get into prosthetics?

Kat Holmes:

I have no clear line I can draw for you in terms of why, other than I... Within my community growing up, the combination of arts and sciences and people that I had an... adults and teachers I learned from my head teachers who themselves had worked in a lot of different social justice movements, teachers with disabilities. Part of my awareness, I think, coming into school was so many of the assistive technologies and the system devices were basically medical devices first and foremost. As a kid who loved art, and then I was a huge math nerd, it always felt like something that was expressive.

Kat Holmes:

Well, just because something replicates a medical like... There's a huge conversation that I don't think we have nearly enough in our workspaces about the impact of a design and how it can send a signal of being a patient or needing help or needing... The design itself indicates the relationship, especially as a signal to people around us of a device that looks like a medical device maybe indicates something different than a prosthetic that is expressive and beautiful, something that's... I remember seeing this prosthetic arm that was leather and gold painted on it, and look nothing like trying to replicate a human arm.

Kat Holmes:

It was an expression of a person in a way that was very personal. I just always thought about that matching up of between a human and the technology that's pretty intimate to each of us is a place where a lot of art and beauty could happen if we thought about it through a human lens as opposed through a medical lens. Then I also was really excited about the idea. This is the time where bio tech growing bone, growing... It was just one of those times in the field where there was a lot of what if, what could we create through the mediums that maybe are less rigid and more fluid instead of-

Will Butler:

This is late 90s or something?

Kat Holmes:

Early 90s, thank you for asking.

Will Butler:

No, I'm just trying to set the scene of when all these people were trying to rethink all this biotech stuff and all that.

Kat Holmes:

Huge ethical questions that were coming up at that time. This is during the first tech, boom, mid 90s. It was also a time where a lot of my peers were heading straight to a start up, quitting school for six-figure jobs. I've always been a... I'm not a Luddite, but I'm definitely old school at heart. But if you make something, you make it so it's built to last, and understanding the very basic material level, how something works, was really interesting to me. That's to say that that was the depth of my nerdiness at that time, which still, of course is part of who I am.

Will Butler:

What kind of kid were you though? Were you nerdy? Were you... I mean, you said nerdy but we all felt like nerds as kids, I think, but what was your cha...

Kat Holmes:

What was my...

Will Butler:

Entrepreneurial? How do you define that growing up in Oakland? I'm [inaudible 00:17:51] kid as well, so I have some familiarity, but growing up in Oakland is a unique diverse place, right?

Kat Holmes:

Yeah. I was pretty introverted. I loved math and science. I showed this picture when I speak at different companies of myself with my fourth grade science project. It's me talking about how earthquakes work. I got this glow on my face, and I'm giving this huge thumbs up. I had created a sculpture of fault lines in the Bay Area. I have always been curious. Maybe that's the word to use, deeply curious about how things work around us. I was not fantastic at social skills. I've always enjoyed small groups of people, close groups of friends. Even today, when I do a large speaking event, I don't know if anybody here gets nervous with public speaking, but it's certainly still the case for me.

Kat Holmes:

When I talk to a big group, I basically go and take a nap for a day or two afterwards. That was true as a kid. I get really excited about the things that drive my curiosity, and I could talk in depth for a long time with people who share that curiosity, but I think growing up in Oakland, as I mentioned, I had teachers from a really wide range of backgrounds and experiences. Friend groups were largely multiracial, multi experience. We didn't think about it that way at that time. It's just the environment I grew up in, but when I was 16, my parents got divorced, and they moved out to Pleasanton, which at that time, again, early 90s, well, is not a very diverse place.

Kat Holmes:

It was a huge culture shock for me. I suddenly went... The schools I grew up in were predominantly black and Asian, and went to being one of five non-white kids in my school of about 2,000. For the first time in my life, I was asked, "Do you speak English," or being complimented on the quality of my English. I had an encounter very first couple of months in my new school with a group of Neo-Nazi demonstrators, protesters, outside of my school, and that was life changing for me. Not only was it a really scary encounter, but when I told the school administration about it, the principal's response was that there was nothing that they could do, because it had happened off of the school campus.

Kat Holmes:

I tell this story because as I've reflected on why am I so drawn to this work, and I think a lot of it comes from that moment and feeling that I would never want another person to feel as alone as we feel when someone who can do something to make a difference, who does have a power to make a difference says that it's not their job. It was that first experience, so I started writing. I wrote an article for the school paper, basically, telling that story, and that was the way that I first started making friends in this new school after a very lonely period, and that connecting with other people who had a sense of, "Something's not right here. How do you find your voice in that?"

Kat Holmes:

That to me is maybe one of the most defining moments for me as a person and as a leader.

Cordelia McGee-Tubb:

Wow. I'm sorry that happened to, Kat. I think looking at your career in inclusive design, one thing that's always stood out to me about your writing about inclusive design is that before we can talk about inclusion, we have to talk about exclusion. We have to recognize exclusion in order to have these conversations about how to make things better. It's amazing to hear that even as a high school student, you're drawing those connections.

Kat Holmes:

Thanks for highlighting that piece, because I think the aha, the light bulb for me around that point about recognizing exclusion really came through writing and writing the word inclusion 1,000 times. I'll try to write articles or a book, and I was like, "I don't really think I know what this word means." I think I've been using it for years without really understanding it. I've probably told you the story, Cordelia, but I'll just say it quickly, the thing that I finally did was looked up the root word of inclusion, which is cludere. It's a Latin for to shut, and so literally, exclusion is to shut out, and inclusion is to shut in.

Kat Holmes:

That really flipped my thinking, and talking about exclusion first as how do we recognize that for ourselves, which is sometimes much, much easier than then recognizing it and how people other than ourselves might experience it. It became a way of unlocking what felt like very separate conversations. I would be in one room having a conversation about accessibility and inclusive design through the lens of disability, and then in the different room talking about inclusive design by gender or inclusive design by race.

Kat Holmes:

It always felt like being in separate rooms having the same conversation was in itself problematic, and so exclusion is one of those things that helps make the conversation universal. But also, I think we can all draw upon experiences, and we can all relate to experiences of being left out or much worse. I share that in, I think, when we can find those moments and make space to hear and listen to each other's stories about exclusion, something really, really special happens.

Will Butler:

You're making me wonder, is this why I do what I do?

Kat Holmes:

Why do you do what you do, Will?

Will Butler:

Well, I mean, for me, not being left out is a huge value not just for myself, but for everyone that I do anything with. I want everyone to be included. I think it probably goes back to some childhood thing as it does for many of us. You talk about child's play in the book, right?

Kat Holmes:

Yeah, and that was talking about the kindergarten classroom. A teacher, for folks who maybe haven't heard the story before, made a rule that in her classroom that you cannot say that someone cannot play with you, so anyone who comes up and says, "Hey, can I play? Can I join in?" You have to say yes. You have to adapt the game to make a new variation or to make space, and in that rule, watching how children behaved, I think, is not too far off of how adults behave. At first, there was a lot of resistance in particular from the children who are most often self assigned in charge of organizing how other children or a group of kids would come together and play, so kids who might step forward and set the rules.

Kat Holmes:

There was a lot of like, "Wait a minute, but this is the game that I designed. I don't want to change the game. How do I... How come I have to do this?" But for pretty much every other child in the classroom was like, "Okay, let's give it a shot," and just reading and following Vivian Paley's work as a teacher really is just for me connected exactly to what it is that we do in creating technology, or that we often... When somebody says, "Hey, you can't say you can't play," sometimes you first get the reaction of, "Well, wait a minute, but this is how I've designed this. I don't want to change it. What do you mean I have to?"

Kat Holmes:

The brilliance in the kindergarten classroom story is that as kids started thinking and rethinking their games, the roles that they played in these games start to change. It's not the same kid being cast as the villain every time. But now, young boys can become the newborn babies in the story, or there could be multiple villains, and no good hero. The stories got more interesting. I think that that's such a important... Play is such an important part of what we do and how we can stretch beyond our own fixed thinking about what roles our products make, what roles we play in making those products.

Kat Holmes:

Play is... I think back to the curiosity piece, there might be another thread through childhood is the importance of play and challenging rules that maybe someone says they're flexible, but I really don't think they are. Sorry, somebody says they're fixed, and then I really don't think they are.

Will Butler:

There's two things to me about that child's play example that are really, really, really interesting. The first is that the only people who really struggled once everyone was included were the kids who were originally in power, right, and the ones who were setting the rules already?

Kat Holmes:

Correct.

Will Butler:

You said they enjoyed being the boss, right? Then the other thing is that the majority of the kids had a great time once the games were inclusive. From that, you could look at it cynically and be like, "Oh, well, most people are just followers, and so we need to convince our leaders to be inclusive," but the other thing I actually, you could look at it like most people are pretty community-minded and can adapt easily, and so, I don't know, it's just that interplay of these bossy kids really being the only ones who suffered from inclusion hit me like a ton of bricks.

Kat Holmes:

I think you're absolutely right and that the... I think our orientation to leadership is partly what gets in the way at times of us seeing what's possible, and making progress, our orientation to hierarchy, and knowing that for the small number of kids that maybe enjoyed being the boss, enjoyed a degree of power, whether it was given or taken that for the most part, and I do believe this, that people really do show up for each other when given the chance, and we need, certainly, leaders in a hierarchy to do their part, and show up and be clear in the space that they impact and the influence that they have over culture in a community.

Kat Holmes:

But mostly, they set the stage and help get out of the way, and it's really about enabling or empowering many different kinds of spaces for people to show up as their own leaders, as leaders together. I think the kindergarten example is just a nice microscope version of what happens in so many organizations, where maybe as we think about accessibility in particular, we'll say, "How do I convince the senior leader? How do I convince the CEO?" I've seen remarkable things happen when a CEO will say, "This matters. Everybody pay attention," and then gets out of the way, and just provides the right moments of support for the huge number of people inside of an organization, who have for a long time been advocating for working towards, for building solutions that truly are accessible, but creating the environment in which people can contribute, and those contributions could have an impact.

Kat Holmes:

I think that's the role of a senior leader, to set that stage and then get out of the way and make sure that everybody can engage with each other to find all those different ways you couldn't even imagine a game could be designed or played.

Cordelia McGee-Tubb:

It's about giving that permission to play and permission to explore is really, really key from leaders.

Kat Holmes:

And a safe environment to do that in, right? Know that when people play and explore that not everything will work out, but okay, but I think when it comes to convincing the leader versus how do I work with a leader? How do I identify a leader who does create that space? How do I help my leadership team be that kind of leader? Those are the questions I'm constantly thinking about, less about permission and more about growth that our leaders need in order to create that kind of safe environment, and play safe environment for all of us.

Cordelia McGee-Tubb:

Kat, speaking of leadership, I think many of us know you as an inclusive design leader at Microsoft, at Google, now at Salesforce. Going back to how did you get from those college days to working on inclusive design at Microsoft, what was your career trajectory from college to this point?

Kat Holmes:

I started as a mechanical engineer working on some really complex instrumentation, things that... I think with this group audience, you get some really savvy folks here, so things like spectrum analyzers, logic analyzers, oscilloscopes, I... Again, back to... I just love the complexity of older technology and analog technologies. I'm a really analog person at heart. What I found quickly and I think what I see more and more is folks who are interested in coming into design, and earlier in their careers recognizing like, "Hey, I really want to do something that's I can work more with people, see the human side of how these products are used, and also be thinking ahead about what people need, not just what the tech can do.

Kat Holmes:

Actually, I got pregnant. I got pregnant. I chose to get pregnant, not I got pregnant, while I'm working at this company. The birth of my first daughter is like, "Oh, maybe technology is not for me. Maybe it's too hard to do something so removed from people, so maybe I'll stay at home." I stayed at home with my first child for a total of, I think, three months before I was like, "Nope, this isn't for me. I'm going to go back to work." I think, it gave me this pause to reflect on things that were important to me, and I took a role at Microsoft InDesign as a industrial designer.

Kat Holmes:

My starting point, again, was physical analog, working with plastics and metals, rather than bits and code. But the thing about Microsoft, much like a lot of the large companies that we work at, it's like a candy store of projects and things to work on. In my nine years at Microsoft, I worked on most of the product areas that that company creates, but I found a niche for myself and being with new product concepts, thinking about the future, thinking about... I worked with the HoloLens team six years before it came to market. I worked on a bunch of failed mobile phone projects, and Microsoft's like, "What's the future of this? What's the future of that?"

Kat Holmes:

What I found is that the same challenges would come up no matter what we were envisioning. It really came down to, "Why are we making this?" Not just like, "What's the point," but why do we show up to work every day? Is it to make another wrist band that tells us our heart rate? Is it to make better operating systems? I was really in search of that purpose for myself. I think I connected with a lot of people who also were searching for that purpose at the company level. With that, I, in particular, was drawn to accessibility, I think, for the first time in that environment, because it was so clear to me that all these future interactions...

Kat Holmes:

We're talking about, "What's the future of AI? What's the future of voice-based interaction? What's the future of multi-touch gestures?" Sitting there looking at also the conversation around accessibility, at that time, just trying to get the leadership to pay attention to the fundamentals of accessibility and prioritize it, these seem like one conversation in the same. What if they were one conversation at the same? As we're thinking about voice-based interaction, should we also be having conversations with people who've been using speech commanding for decades to interact with computers?

Kat Holmes:

Should we be having conversations with people who are blind, and use auditory cues for interacting with computers? Those two ideas clicked together for me in a way that was very clear, and clear enough I was able to convince the leadership around me to support a team. I grew a team and grew a function dedicated to advising product teams across Microsoft on how to do this work. It was a lot to that play. We got room to play, and it was enough room to create examples within products like Xbox, within Windows even. The real moment when that accelerated is when Satya Nadella became CEO.

Kat Holmes:

He came to visit the design studio, and he was the first CEO and really executive at Microsoft to come into a design studio and have a conversation with the teams. I remember I got a 30-minute heads up that he was coming. I just very simply explained that concept of, "If we can solve voice-based interaction with the expertise of people who have been using voice and audio experiences for decades, we're going to unlock something really great for everyone." He immediately got it. It was a click for him as well.

Kat Holmes:

That was like popping the cork off of a champagne bottle, and we suddenly had the forum to talk with the entire company in a very visible way and to really stretch outside of Microsoft, and talk with other companies about what inclusive design could make possible for their customers.

Will Butler:

Do you know what year was that, Kat?

Kat Holmes:

2014, '15, 2014, '15.

Will Butler:

Would you say that was a real direction change for Microsoft, or do you think it was inevitable?

Kat Holmes:

That was a very clear change. This is maybe back to our conversation about leadership and leaders in the space that they create. The path that Microsoft was on before Nadella was the one that it had been on for several decades. What Nadella did was create a pause and a self-reflection as a company, and also to evaluate whether or not the work we were doing really connected to a purpose that we believed in. I'll always be profoundly changed by that, because at the company level, being able to ask ourselves what is the human purpose of the work that we do, whether how we show up at work every day for each other, or also the products we create for people.

Kat Holmes:

To be at the heart to have work and be a part of the work at the heart of that questioning, I think, was... They're certainly transformative for me, but I think for a lot of people, it helped clarify and connect to that original kid-like purpose of why would I want to make prosthetic arms? Oh, because there is something here for people that's highly creative, can be expressive, could be impactful. But having that space in the culture of that company, it was just like a night and day difference before and after Nadella.

Will Butler:

When the cork popped off, who were your friends? Were there already accessibility and inclusion champions at Microsoft, or did you feel a bit like you were building something on your own?

Kat Holmes:

Long before I really became deeply familiar with accessibility, there was a huge community in Microsoft. I think there may be several lenses. One is a long standing accessibility team that was very active in working to make the case for accessibility. I say that, often, these accessibility teams are outside of the product organization trying to knock their way like ask for the time and attention of a product leader. We had a lot of folks focused on accessibility before I got there. Jenny Lay-Flurrie, who many folks I'm sure know, was also very active in the disability community at Microsoft, which I became a part of through this work more and more so.

Kat Holmes:

That was a very active community, but it was the coming together of these communities, and then also the product leadership is the part of the popping the cork was like... It became product team's accountability to do this work and creativity. Then you have all that great expertise and accessibility, the voice of the disability community at Microsoft, and then product leaders who understand it as their responsibility, working together and knowing what to do to make that happen. Suddenly, they're all on the same conversation with a shared expectation that we have work to do.

Kat Holmes:

For me, it was like a tight group of friends before the champagne cork popped as community that I was finding my identity with, and a sense of my purpose in this work with through accessibility and our disability community. Then when the whole product leadership unlocked, it became senior executive leaders across all of the businesses. They started appointing people to roles as inclusive design leaders for this product or that product. Then the community expanded rapidly, but it was all built around that core group of folks who, for a long time, knew what work needed to be done. We just had new pathways to having that impact and influence with teams.

Cordelia McGee-Tubb:

That's incredible. I love too that Microsoft has been able to also pour that champagne, and hand it out to other organizations too. I look at the inclusive design toolkit that you all created as something that I, at Salesforce, reference all the time that I know a lot of my colleagues at other companies reference as well as it is a toolkit that can be used by anyone to open up those spaces for conversation within their organizations, and it's incredible. I'm wondering if you could tell us a little bit more about that toolkit and how it came about.

Kat Holmes:

That's a really good question. It's funny looking back, because the very beginning of bringing together the innovation kind of talking about voice-based interactions or AI or gesture and bringing that together with accessibility, people didn't know what the heck I was talking about for a year. I was like, "There's something here, everybody. Let's go dig in." Nobody knew what I was talking about. I mean, because we have folks who maybe had deep expertise in accessibility, but we're wondering like, "Why are we talking about design in the same... Why are we talking about..." Even like, "Is it exploitative at times to talk about inclusive design in the context of products without that product work being led by people with disabilities?"

Kat Holmes:

We had a lot of really hard and important conversations around who does the work, and who leads? Can this work happen in a product team without that not just representation, but leadership? Big questions like that led us to do a lot of writing. That's back to the high school skill that I found to be important. It's like writing it down and having as clear of a perspective as possible around, "No. No. No. Here's what we're saying. We're saying all these things matter. Yes. When products [inaudible 00:48:00], it has to be through the leadership of people with disabilities and disabled folks that are not just..."

Kat Holmes:

It's not about conducting user research. It's about the expertise that already exists in the world that is missing from our product leadership teams. How do you bring experts in all kinds of technologies and interactions that they themselves have experienced as a disabled person or as a person with a disability, and put that at the center of how we do design projects and design work? As we started to refine that, that became I think the... The momentum of the toolkit was writing it down was a way of having a life beyond our team. It could travel at a different pace than we could. It could reach more people, and secretly, I'm always a little bit sneaky in the work I do.

Kat Holmes:

I wanted something that could live outside of Microsoft, because sometimes, the way to convince leaders that something is important is just be able to point to somebody other than ourselves and say, "See, that group over there validated or also thinks this is important," so having other companies. We published the toolkit publicly almost as soon as we finished writing it, rather than just trying to convince everybody internally. We made it an external resource, and we have more and more companies reaching out to us saying, "Hey, so what's the next step in the actions that we should take?"

Kat Holmes:

We got the external pressure created some influence from the outside that helped move our leadership inside the company as well. I think it just balanced a couple of ideas that people have been thinking about in many different companies, brought them together in a way that people saw action for themselves, and then it was just a starting point to get conversations going. Not a list of answers for someone, and in that, it sparked a lot of curiosity. It got different kinds of conversations going. Then ultimately, it was inducted into the Smithsonian Museum, which was-

Cordelia McGee-Tubb:

What? I didn't know that.

Kat Holmes:

It's part of the permanent collection at Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian.

Cordelia McGee-Tubb:

No big deal. That's amazing.

Kat Holmes:

That was that a real proud moment.

Will Butler:

What was the name of that exhibit? It was like in 2015 or '16 or something.

Kat Holmes:

I think it was ability and access like that.

Will Butler:

Something like that. Was it part of that? Is that when they brought it into the collection?

Kat Holmes:

Yeah.

Will Butler:

I really do think that being successful in your career is two things. Being able to write is super, super important. Being able to work cross functionally is super, super important. You mentioned both of those things. But also, this third thing about being able to... Not valuing what the resources you have internally until somebody else externally wants them is a really interesting third factor. It's like, "How do you enlighten your organization about the value of the resources that you already have, and so look inward instead of looking outward for that?"

Kat Holmes:

It's, I think, such a great framing that you have there, Will, because given who is listening to this podcast and participating with this podcast, just your audience, I have total confidence in saying that you can go years in talking about something and feel like nobody understands what you're talking about. I think in that... Maybe I'll add a fourth thing to what you're saying is the importance of community, for us being there with each other as that long stretch of things not clicking for everybody around us. Are you going through that? If I were to only look at the community I had within, Microsoft is lucky, because it's a big company, but that...

Kat Holmes:

There was a good number of folks, but if it was a smaller company, it would have felt very alone. This is why the external piece is also about community and feeling like, "All right, which stage of the not being understood by that?" "Okay, but stage two." "All right, we got few more stages to go where we can find shared support for each other." I think that then also that outside influence, there's different ways that leadership teams are motivated. But I think from a career standpoint, and this applies to more than just inclusive design, I have found at times I've gone way too long in a team, where maybe not the right conversation.

Kat Holmes:

I did not have the right conversations around me to make the work happen. I maybe even started to believe things like, "Oh, maybe I want to be a manager," but I have a leader who's told me, "Oh, in order to be a manager, you have to do X, Y, and Z. You have to go get an MBA," somebody told me once. You start to believe it. I start to believe it. But being inside of a team, where tight conversations can start to shape how I think about myself, I think realizing only after moving to another team or moving to another company and saying, "Oh, that was a conversation that that former manager had, that was not true about me."

Kat Holmes:

Moving into this company, they entirely see me as a manager or a leader or a product leader. The conversation shifts depending on the space you're in, and so one thing that I've learned and I try to... As I'm partnering with other folks in their career development, it's like, "Which conversations right now are yours, and which ones are other people's." If it's other people's, and you're not feeling like you're making the progress you need to make, what will it take to get in an environment where you feel supported? What will it take to shift those conversations?

Kat Holmes:

If it's a conversation within myself that's in the way of me making progress, what are the things I need to look to my community to support me in getting past those things that might be keeping me from making the progress that I want to make? I think as a support mechanism for each other, those are important conversations to have, because it can be very lonely to do this work as a small team inside a company, and feel like the progress is very slow.

Will Butler:

Absolutely.

Cordelia McGee-Tubb:

I was just going to say as much as we focus on inclusive design of our products and spaces that we create for other people, we also need to focus on inclusive design of our own spaces and our own environments, our own collaboration processes.

Kat Holmes:

Absolutely. I'm really glad you mentioned that, Cordelia, because one of the condition is that we need to do our best work, and being a small community of people who are working on accessibility, plus, also the circumstances or environments may not be inclusive themselves. Those are layers of work on top of work on top of work. I think if anything, I just would want folks to know that they're never alone in that work, and although that work may be multi-generational and take time, that being able to support each other with different techniques and ways of having that impact or making those changes that we want to see, and then also supporting each other when it's maybe not happening as quickly as we need it to or want them to, I think, are really important.

Will Butler:

We talked about finding that those inclu... What do we call them? Finding those exclusion experts, and bringing them in into your teams earlier, but this is something you referenced. This is a big part of your book. I'm wondering, so you're at Microsoft. You had all this great progress at Microsoft, and then you moved on to Google. Obviously, now you're at Salesforce. At what point did you decide you're going to write a book, and why a book, and how did you bring those learnings from those other jobs into the book?

Kat Holmes:

It's like how did you decide to have a baby? It happens. Like having a baby, it was super messy and painful. I have no idea. I described it before as like having a baby through my face [crosstalk 00:57:46].

Will Butler:

Oh my God. First of all, the book baby metaphor is like... I've heard other people use this before, and I think it's very spot on, but having a baby through your face is maybe the best version of that I've ever heard.

Cordelia McGee-Tubb:

That will be the episode title.

Will Butler:

Oh my God.

Kat Holmes:

It was like, "Why would you ever do that again?" Yet, the question's like, "What do you think you've got next?" At Microsoft, there was such a interest. There was a growing interest from other companies in how to do inclusive design or how to start a practice in their own companies. I actually tried to set up a consulting practice from within Microsoft, and that didn't work out, so I left. In leaving, I said, "I'm going to just go build my own business. Let me see if I can support..." I'm the sole breadwinner for my family. "Let me go see if I can just go out there, make a bet on myself, and build a business," which was terrifying because of all the things that are weighted on that.

Kat Holmes:

Part of that was I was taking lots of ideas in like, "What if I..." I just had to break up everything I knew about myself and what I could or couldn't do in that process, which was very exciting, but also terrifying. One of those things was meeting John Maeda. He had seen some of my work. He reached out. We became really close friends, and then that part of that process, he invited me to write a book as part of the simplicity series, Laws of Simplicity that he had written in the early 2000s.

Kat Holmes:

It's the intersection of, "Well, I have a lot more time on my hands. I need to reach more people with these ideas," and there's an opportunity to write something that could make it into the world. I gave myself a six-month timeframe, and cranked out that book as if my life depended on it.

Cordelia McGee-Tubb:

In six months?

Kat Holmes:

Six months, yeah.

Cordelia McGee-Tubb:

Wow. Ironically, for a simplicity series, it seems that writing a book is not a simple task.

Will Butler:

That's why they want you to do it. Make it seem simple, right?

Kat Holmes:

It takes more time to write something simple than it is to create something complex. That's for sure.

Will Butler:

I wanted to ask you about John Maeda, though. John Maeda, for those who don't know, is a partner at Kleiner Perkins Caufield and Byers, one of the bigger VC firms in tech and just the world in general. How do we convince people with money and influence to do accessibility or to do inclusion, for lack of a better term? Is it simply a matter of getting them to understand the business imperative, or is there something else there?

Kat Holmes:

It's a great question that I've been asked multiple times, and I always pause because it's a different answer every time it falls out on me.

Will Butler:

I know. Well, there's no right answer, really. It's just I want to know your opinion.

Kat Holmes:

There really is no answer. I think in the same way that categorizing people by identity, we do the same thing by business identities. Categorizing people by gender or by race or ethnicity, we might look at just one dimension of who they are, and miss out on a whole lot of other complexity. That's true about somebody, and I think the same thing happens when we think about business leaders or folks who venture capital. What's been interesting is by putting myself out there, more personally, putting... sorry, personally putting myself out there as someone who is dedicated to this work on inclusive design, thinking about what the new frontiers of this will be, I've seen a really wide range of people reach out to me, and they're coming from all sectors, but they have a shared...

Kat Holmes:

It's like connecting on that dimension like, "How do we identify and connect with people who might be in those positions of influence or financial power that are also looking to make an impact on a more inclusive and accessible world?" If you connect on that basic motivation for somebody, it's less about how do you convince the VC sector to think about this differently, and more about how do you create a signal so that people who are in venture capital or FinTech or CEOs, how do you show up in the spaces so that people who do have that commitment can connect with you?

Will Butler:

I should correct myself to say John is known as a designer foremost, but it's not fair to just qualify him as an executive, and that, in some ways, what you're saying is connect with people over your passions in the subject matter, rather than simply focusing on their level of influence.

Kat Holmes:

Yeah. John is, I think, in the time I've known him, revisiting some of the parts of himself that really his computer science background, his work at the MIT Media Lab for a lot of years, he was president of RISD. You catch somebody in a moment in time in a particular role, but then as you get to know them, you build relationships. It's like all these dimensions come out of where somebody is... their backstory and what brought them to their work. I think keeping a signal out to the world, putting ourselves out there can be really terrifying to do in a public way, like genuinely say, "This is what I stand for," and then listening for the cues back when people really are committed.

Kat Holmes:

I do think that there's a rise in companies, certainly, leaders talking about different kinds of equity, justice, inclusion that they're committed to. We, as a community that have been working in this space as a career for a while, how do we connect and meet people in that moment when they're ready to learn the next level for themselves? That itself is a job.

Cordelia McGee-Tubb:

Speaking to people's passions, something that I absolutely love in Mismatch and in, I mean, many talks that I've seen you do, Kat, is this idea of inclusive design as a love story. I guess could you just share for our audience one of your favorite inclusive design love stories?

Kat Holmes:

It's funny because the moment that this clicked for me was... A very dear friend who folks may know is August de los Reyes. We worked together at Microsoft. He just passed recently. August and I did a lot of work together on inclusive design, and then also met Cliff Kuang, who's currently at Google, who was a... He was a writer for Fast Company at the time. He was also working on a book called User Friendly Design. Somehow between the three of us, we pass around these stories of like, "Did you know that..." August's favorite story was the flexible straw, the bendy straw, which is a counter in San Francisco milkshake counter.

Kat Holmes:

Joseph Friedman and his daughter were creating or sorry, drinking it like, what do they call it, a fountain shop-

Cordelia McGee-Tubb:

Soda fountain, is that what [crosstalk 01:06:30]?

Kat Holmes:

Soda fountain, something like that.

Cordelia McGee-Tubb:

Soda shop, yield soda shop.

Kat Holmes:

[crosstalk 01:06:37]. Yes, soda shop in San Francisco. His daughter couldn't drink out of the straw. It was a straight paper straw without tipping. She couldn't reach the full height of the counter, and so he brought the straw home, and put a screw inside of it and wrapped a wire around the outside. It's created a bendable joint. That made the drink accessible to his daughter certainly as they were enjoying a beverage, but it's gone on to benefit many more people. That was August's favorite story. My favorite story was the keyboard. I'll tell this one quickly. An Italian inventor, Pellegrino Turri and the countess, Contessa Carolina Fantoni da Fivizzano, which I practiced saying many times, and I'm sure I was very good at-

Will Butler:

That was beautiful.

Kat Holmes:

... were very, very close friends and even rumored to be lovers, secret lovers. When they were apart, they wanted to communicate, but Contessa was blind. This is in the mid 1800s when you would typically dictate a letter to another person if you were blind to write the letter for you and then to send. It's a really crappy solution if you want confidential and private letters, so the two of them work together to create the first prototype of the keyboard of a typewriter so that the countess could author her own letters. There's so many stories like this where inclusive design started with two people to love each other, and deeply familiar with the Mismatch and said, "What if we did," and then set about making something better, and then it went on to benefit a whole lot more people.

Will Butler:

I'm going to cry. The thing I love is that those stories don't play on the pity for a disabled individual.

Kat Holmes:

Absolutely not.

Will Butler:

They hinge on the love, which is I can't argue with that.

Kat Holmes:

I think it's such an important distinction in framing... Helping introduce people to this work for the first time is that this is not about designing something for a person with, as you were saying, Will, the pity and the sympathy and the charity mindset, and the, "I'm superhero. I'm going to swoop in and create this thing, and it's going to be for people," and the harm that creates and perpetuates is immeasurable, but centering the truth of our lives and the truth of countless devices in our environment that were created by and with people with disabilities, people who are innovators, and hacking their environments for better solutions, that creativity is exceptional in communities that have experienced exclusion, multi-generational, decade over decades.

Kat Holmes:

It is a important distinction, and it just helps to break up that notion of a benefactor or beneficiary mindset, which can be very harmful to how we think about communities of people.

Will Butler:

Just a sidebar for the history nerds here, I've been looking for that story about the keyboard, the type of keyboard. Where did you find that? Where do you get that research?

Kat Holmes:

I think Cliff was the one who first told me about the story, but a lot of time on the internet, a lot of time in the archives of Berkeley's library. I know folks who are from Berkeley, but I love the Stacks.

Will Butler:

The Main Stacks, that's where I spent my college years.

Kat Holmes:

I love the Stacks. I find weird little corners of the Stacks that books that you would not... things you wouldn't find online, so a combination of just some serious Google searches, talking to, again, community, the importance of community. I know that there are people out there that have come across these stories, ad as we bring them and build them together and show them together, it's like, "Whoa, there's a whole history here."

Will Butler:

I would just love to see that book, whatever it is, but it's so true. People need to remember not all the information in the world is on the internet, guys.

Kat Holmes:

What is interesting as well and important to call out is the stories are often told through the lens of an ablest masculine paternalistic lens, right? Even at the San Francisco Airport, back to airports, because I used to travel a lot, they had an exhibit of the history of typewriters. I was like how like... I got so excited.

Will Butler:

I see where this is going.

Kat Holmes:

You know where this is going. They had the story of Pellegrino Turri, and there's no mention of the contessa. There's that factor as well that just takes unpacking and his being a historian to find the true story.

Will Butler:

Oh, she probably invented it, honestly.

Kat Holmes:

I'm going to just say that's exactly what happened.

Will Butler:

I mean, off the record, it shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone.

Kat Holmes:

Off the record.

Will Butler:

I mean, I studied history too, and the whole thing they teach you is not to just take what is read as fact, but to read in the margins or about what's going on, right?

Kat Holmes:

Absolutely. Awesome. Awesome.

Will Butler:

Cordelia might not take us there because out of deference and objectivity and all this stuff, but I want to know what's going on at Salesforce and what you guys are working on. What are you excited about? You show up. Kat, when did you get there? Cordelia, how did everything change?

Kat Holmes:

I joined about a year ago, almost exactly a year ago. The very exciting news that we just announced today is we have a new VP of inclusive design and accessibility that's joining our team, Elise Roy. You folks may know.

Cordelia McGee-Tubb:

Yes.

Kat Holmes:

Big, big heart leaping exciting moment for me. Elise is a very good friend, but also I think for Salesforce. Just the team that we have, as I mentioned in the beginning, at Salesforce is one of the best that I've seen. I tell Cornelia and the team this all the time. I have a huge crush on all of them.

Cordelia McGee-Tubb:

I'm blushing over here, Kat.

Kat Holmes:

I think the coming together as a team for me over the last year has really been a chance to see the huge amount of expertise that we have, opportunities where I'm playing more of a product leader role in Salesforce. I lead design for some of our biggest products, and Cordelia and I are partners in that team, but part of what needs to happen is getting everybody else, all the product leadership, to see the simple actions that they can take next. I often talk about the overlap between experts with accessibility knowledge and then experts with product knowledge, because our products are pretty complex. It's about making sure those two circles overlap with each other more and more that people have shared expertise and accessibility and product knowledge.

Kat Holmes:

Cordelia is our hero example of that, blushing I hope, but I think what's great is we have all the pieces we need to unlock really important not just fundamentals of accessibility, but innovations, things to transform how people interact with businesses, how workplace is. We do a ton of work with... There's vaccine management coming up COVID-related products for work environments. There's a critical moment in the kind of products that we create for workplaces, making sure that all of these very complex, ethical, and accessibility and inclusion-related questions are being baked into the process early as we're designing what those solutions look like and how they work.

Will Butler:

Another Google get.

Kat Holmes:

Yes. I'm smiling.

Will Butler:

They're shaking their fists over their at Google. What happens when we have people migrating from big company to big company bringing accessibility knowledge around?

Kat Holmes:

I think it's important that there's growth for accessibility leaders and makers. I would say that the growing not just scale of roles, but also seniority of roles is really important. As someone has built was unique, we know this expertise is critical to our businesses. We know it's critical to the customers, and it's critical to leadership as well in terms of, I think Cornelia, you mentioned, the kind of environments that we're working in and that lived experience with... as a person with a disability, that lived experience with accessibility and assistive technology. Imagine having more and more senior leadership that that has always been part of how they work, who they are and what they value.

Kat Holmes:

I think that, to me, is the importance of us all having mobility between companies, and elevating this in whatever collective way we can at the companies that have massive global scale and reach. I'm less worried about what it means for the companies, and more concerned about what it means to the people who do this work, and how we can all continue to be in more influential and impactful roles, where more people are taking our expertise as deeply, seriously as they would any expertise.

Will Butler:

Contrary to what we're told, companies aren't, in fact, people. Cordelia, I want to ask you. As someone who's been leading accessibility battles for so long at Salesforce, what does it mean to you when people like Kat and Elise show up in these leadership roles?

Cordelia McGee-Tubb:

It's incredible, because I can say when Kat joined a year ago, it brought or she brought so much new light and energy around accessibility and was popping light bulbs off in people's heads left and right, and so it brings this new energy and it also brings... It elevates the work that we do to have these more senior leaders come in and say, "Hey, this is important. Accessibility gets a seat at this table. Inclusive design gets a seat at this table," and so it's not always fighting from the bottom, and it's not always fighting. Accessibility and inclusive design are part of these core conversations from the top, from the bottom, from everywhere.

Cordelia McGee-Tubb:

We've often talked in the accessibility team about how our success comes from when people are asking about accessibility in meetings that we're not in like when it has permeated beyond our little circles into a mainstream thing. I think just to echo what Kat was saying about having more senior leaders in these spaces really shows that this is important. It gives permission to teams or individuals who may be passionate about this, but not sure that they have the wiggle room to explore. It gives them permission to explore. I'm super thrilled.

Cordelia McGee-Tubb:

I've been thrilled every single day that I work with Kat. I'm so excited that Elise has joined as well. Gosh, it's the dream team, so really fortunate to work with these folks, and really excited to see what happens.

Kat Holmes:

Now, I'm blushing.

Will Butler:

I'm sure you both feel like you have some battles ahead of you, right? I mean, it's not just like all rainbows and flowers and whatnot.

Kat Holmes:

I don't know about you, Cordelia. I've come to think about it as this is multiple lifetimes of work, and so there's days that are easier than others. There's days that are more challenging than others. I no longer see it as a battle or battles ahead as much as there's a lot of growth and stages of learning that people are at that we just need to choose where we want to lead from, which rooms we want to be pulled forward with, and which conversations do we want to lead? I would say I look at it a little bit more of like a candy store back to the play. It's like, "All right, where do we want to go?"

Kat Holmes:

If we collectively put our intention and our community, and focus ways towards those goals, I have a high confidence that it's less of a battle and more of a taking it by storm, just being pulled forward into the places where this will become what everybody knows to be true about what we need to do when we're building products and tech, but I'm deeply optimistic. How about you, Cordelia?

Cordelia McGee-Tubb:

I'm optimistic. I lately have just been noticing that I've been talking less about challenges and more about opportunities. I think they're challenging opportunities, but I think it's a fun adventure we're going to all go on together.

Will Butler:

Working in a field that involves human rights and fighting for people who don't have a voice and all that, it can be exhausting. I think reframing it that shifting the paradigm a bit, say like, "No, everybody wants to be involved in this ethical process. Everyone wants growth. We're not fighting against each other. We're helping each other learn." I like that a lot. It's sort of the candy... I like the candy store. I like the candy and growing flowers view of accessibility as opposed to the all out bloody war of accessibility.

Kat Holmes:

It [inaudible 01:23:11] about, right? I think what you're saying, Will, is really important is not to diminish the heart. We have a very difficult challenge as Cordelia mentioned. I think that a topic that would be fascinating, if you haven't explored it already, but certainly on my mind is how do we support each other as a community in the exhaustion that we experience? It is a form of resistance, right? Play as a form of resistance is still resistance, and it still takes energy. I still have to protect ourselves from that exhaustion and protect each other from that exhaustion.

Kat Holmes:

You don't want to downplay that at all. That's a very important part of my optimism as the growing community that I'm a part of, that I see, that we're having more conversations about, "What does it mean to protect ourselves against this exhaustion as we're doing this work?"

Cordelia McGee-Tubb:

Well, I have to-

Will Butler:

What do you think, Cordelia? Accessibility burnout, is that an episode?

Cordelia McGee-Tubb:

Yeah. We'll have to have you back for that episode, Kat.

Will Butler:

I have a feeling Kat's not burning out anytime soon.

Cordelia McGee-Tubb:

I mean, I have the pleasure of working with Kat pretty much every day. I'm just really honored that you took the time to talk with our podcast, the letter heads. That's what we call the people who listen to our podcast. Thank you for taking the time to chat with us about your career, about inclusive design, about the role of a leader in creating these spaces for collaboration and innovation. I really appreciate it. Thank you.

Kat Holmes:

Thank you for the invitation. This is how I get energy and how I protect and support myself is having these conversations with our community. This is wonderful. Thank you.

Will Butler:

If you have an idea for an episode of 13 Letters, shoot us an email to 13 Letters. That's 13letters@bemyeyes.com. We will get back to you. Thank you so much for listening, and we'll see you in two weeks.